The craft spirits movement is alive and thriving, with new products rolling out every day. This is exciting for distillers, as it allows the opportunity for experimentation with new recipes, flavor profiles and aging techniques.
Unfortunately, however, this passion for creativity must be mixed with a jigger of regulatory reality and a recognition that with certain products, the distiller must obtain the TTB’s approval of the product’s formula. In fact, in some cases approval of the formula isn’t enough and the distiller must submit samples of the product for laboratory analysis. Not all products face this particular regulatory hurdle. But for those that do, approval of the formula (and laboratory analysis, if required) must be received before the distiller can apply for a Certificate of Label Approval for the product.
So how does a distiller determine whether pre-COLA approval is required? First, he needs to know exactly what he’s making. 27 CFR 5.22 – The Standards of Identity is probably the best place to start. The regulation explains exactly what the TTB means by a laundry list of spirits. As an example, consider one of my favorite spirits: applejack.
Under the regulation, “applejack” may be used as an alternative name for apple brandy. But it doesn’t necessarily stay that way. If you age your applejack for at least two years in oak containers, mix it at a ratio of at least 20% applejack and the remainder neutral spirits, and bottle it at not less than 80 proof, then you’ve made “blended applejack”. What difference does this make from a regulatory standpoint? Well, for one thing the applejack (if produced domestically and assuming no additional coloring, flavoring or blending materials are added, will not require pre-COLA formula approval. But the blended applejack will require pre-COLA formula approval.
All of this means that the distiller of blended applejack will need to factor in additional regulatory approval time (and expense) when planning a product launch. And if either applejack or blended applejack is to be imported into the United States rather than produced domestically, laboratory analysis will be always required (which itself requires submission of the formula) as part of the pre-COLA approval process.
So continue on, craft distillers, and bring us your best and most interesting new offerings. Just remember to factor in that extra month (give or take) of regulatory approval time in your product launch. Don’t worry. We’ll wait. It will be worth it.